The business case
As recently as three years ago, the First Church of Christ, Scientist had a pool of 1,500 end-user developed applications for its 550 users. The organization, which is both a church and publishing society, suffered from severe departmental data silos, according to CIO Curt Edge.
Each department used a different application to store its member data and handle subscriptions, fulfillment and finances, causing wasteful redundancies in applications and data storage. The broad application portfolio also drained IT resources during a time of cutbacks, Edge says. The organization had 400 servers on site -- most with only one application on each. "We were spending 90 percent of our IT budget on system maintenance and 10 percent on the business," he says.
Edge faced not only internal budget heat, but also industry pressure to comply with the then newly released Payment Card Industry standard. "There was no way we could follow the requirement of security patches within 30 days with the limited staff we had. We just didn't have the horsepower," Edge says.
That's when he took the drastic step of consolidating all redundant, out-of-date and inefficient systems and moved them to the cloud. For instance, he got rid of Microsoft Exchange and Office in favor of Google Apps' Gmail and Google Docs. He eliminated department-level programs such as FileMaker that kept data in siloes and signed on to Salesforce.com.
The multiple in-house subscription and fulfillment services applications also got the boot as all operations were outsourced to CDS Global, which specializes in these areas. Even the organization's Oracle database was shifted to the cloud-based Intacct service for accounting and finance.
By the time this IT overhaul is complete later this year, Edge expects to have only a single on-site server for DNS and other network functions. All other applications will run off of virtual servers in a CenturyLink (formerly Savvis) data center, be SaaS-based or be outsourced.
While Edge can't share numbers that validate the drastic changes, he says the benefits are plenty. Data has been pulled out of silos, fostering collaboration across the enterprise; IT now focuses on the business vs. application upkeep; and users have access to up-to-date, compliant and best-practice-based programs.
Convincing the boss
This change wasn't without its struggles, though. Edge had to educate the board of directors and senior management about the positives of a leaner IT and infrastructure. He worked closely with the organization's treasurer to ensure there was an ROI.
Then he established partnerships with all the business leads and explained how much simpler their jobs would be with a streamlined, cloud-based operation. In cases where he got pushback, he offered up numbers. For instance, to anyone that wanted to keep old data, he showed that no one had looked at 80 percent of the data in five years. He explained that he would archive the data, which would keep it from wasting backup and staffing resources.
He found his own IT team to be some of the toughest to convince because they worried they would lose their jobs and that they would be ineffective without their favorite tools. Eventually, he says, he persuaded them that IT's value is not in supporting technology, but in understanding the business and using technology to achieve business goals.